ROCKVILLE -- Days before a vote on what would be the state's toughest anti-smoking law, Montgomery County's top official has told Gov. Parris N. Glendening to butt out of the debate.
In a sharply worded letter, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan criticized Glendening, saying "it is highly inappropriate" for the governor to lobby members of the County Council.
Glendening called two council members Thursday in support of a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars.
"Once again, he's mucking around in Montgomery County," said Duncan, who broke his silence on the proposed county legislation yesterday and urged passage of an amended bill that would put Montgomery in line with Howard County.
Howard permits smoking in separately ventilated, enclosed areas of bars and restaurants.
One vote short
The confrontation between the governor and Duncan, who many think will run for the job in 2002, is likely to raise tensions at Tuesday's council session. A ban is one vote short of passage on the nine-member council.
Glendening spokesman Ray Feldmann said the governor "had personal reasons and policy reasons" for weighing in on the bill. Both of Glendening's parents were smokers and died early, his father of a heart attack and his mother of cancer.
"He wouldn't have a different position in a different county," Feldmann said. "It has less to do with the county and more to do with this being a workplace issue, a health issue."
Patrick Lacefield, County Council spokesman, expressed surprise that Duncan would feel so protective of a body he fights with regularly.
"This is not like the second coming," he said of Glendening's calls. "We don't need [Duncan's] protection. We can speak for ourselves."
Council President Isiah Leggett, the bill's chief sponsor, marveled at being put in the middle of a Glendening-Duncan spat.
'Smoke over smoke'
"It's a lot of smoke over smoke. Maybe there's something I missed," he said. "It wasn't the first time the governor's gotten involved in local issues, and I hope it won't be the last."
For weeks, Duncan refused to take a stand on the bill, saying he would wait to see what the council passed.
During the past several days, his staff has worked quietly on a Howard County-style compromise with Councilman Derick Berlage of Silver Spring, who has not publicly taken a position on a ban.
Duncan said a ban would put restaurants in Silver Spring and Bethesda at a competitive disadvantage with Washington establishments, where smoking laws are less restrictive.
Thursday, the two-way talk became a three-way discussion when Glendening called Duncan to say he had just urged Berlage to vote for the ban.
"I'm not used to having the governor act like a County Council member," Duncan said. "If he feels so strongly about a smoking ban, he should introduce legislation in the General Assembly. I've told him I would be more than willing to support him on that."
Feldmann said Glendening has been a leader on the issue, pushing through smoking restrictions in the workplace in 1995. That bill, he said, did not provide protection for food servers and bartenders.
Duncan speculated that Leggett called the governor to put pressure on Berlage. The Duncan administration feared that that had, in turn, upset its negotiations with Berlage. Berlage could not be reached for comment.
"At that point, I needed to step up and give my council my feelings on the matter," Duncan said.
Leggett denied Duncan's claim, saying the bill came up in conversation about another issue.
"He's the governor," Leggett said with a shrug. "We talk to him about transportation issues, redevelopment issues, education issues. There's nothing new here."
Pub Date: 2/27/99